On being mindful of bodies

Katie posted this on Facebook the other day:


I love it. And it made me think, again, about something I’ve been thinking about for weeks: how do you write about how to dress without slipping into nitpicking about your body or setting arbitrary rules about the kinds of things you can and can’t, will and won’t, wear–and by extension suggesting that those rules apply to other people, too?

This is not primarily a blog about body image. But that seems to make it all the more important to think about this carefully. I write about what I’m wearing, what I’m eating, how I’m feeling about myself and life–all of which will inevitably reveal how I think and feel about bodies (mine and maybe other peoples’, too). Because I’m generally not using this space to loudly proclaim that we are all beautiful and need to love ourselves, these implied messages will come through loud and clear, whether I want them to or not.

From the start, I’ve tried to be as….um, body-neutral? Is that a thing? as possible. There are some things I’ve done very deliberately to make this happen:

  • I promised myself, and I pledge to you now, that I will never, ever pigeon-toe or broken-doll pose in my pictures. I try to stand up straight, with my shoulders back, chin up, and weight more or less evenly distributed. I confess that I am I am occasionally guilty of doing that  “I have only one leg!” thing that gives the brides on Say Yes to the Dress such unreasonable expectations about what mermaid gowns should look like. But in general, “I am an adult wearing clothes,” is the only message I aim to convey.
  • I always try to be clear that my comments are for my edification, your entertainment. What I learn from my own experiences might guide my decisions about what to buy or wear in the future. But I do not want to suggest that what’s true for me should also be true for you.
  • I’ve tried to be tongue-in-cheek about my “recommendations,” saying things like “always accept hand-me-downs from your mother-in-law” and not things like “boy shorts create the illusion of curves.”

I try to make things more about the clothes and the stories that go with them, and less about my body. But of course, the twain shall meet when, you know, I get dressed. And here it gets tricky. For example:

I recently had an idea for a post about my evolving thinking on sleeves (yeah, I know, try to contain your excitement). It was going to be all about how I don’t like my upper arms, so I used to think I should never wear sleeveless tops, but then I realized that short-sleeved tops actually draw attention to the exact part of my arm that I don’t like, while sleeveless tops, instead, show off my shoulders, which I like very much, and draw attention away from the part of my arms that I don’t like, so up with halter tops and down with polo shirts, huzzah!

And then I punched myself in the face.

No, I didn’t but I thought, am I really going to carefully craft this essay and compile photographic evidence on how I like this six inches of my body but don’t like this other six inches immediately next to it? Really? Do I want my teenage cousins (you know, if kids these days actually read blogs. They don’t, do they?) to think that this is what women do, reduce themselves to dismembered Prufrockian arms, find something to hate even when there’s nothing to hate? That this is how I spend my time, energy, attention and anxiety? More to the point, readers aside, is this how I actually want to spend my time, energy, attention and anxiety?

A clue: No!

On the other hand, I feel strongly that it’s both important and  empowering to learn how to pick out clothes that fit properly. I’ve been surprised to discover that most of my “Bad Decision Thursdays” have little to do with what I wanted to wear, and a lot to do with it being the wrong size or shape for me. I’m not talking about grocery checkout lane guides to “balancing” or “playing up” your assets here, like whether “busty ladies” should wear turtlenecks or “curvy girls” should wear skinny jeans. It’s not about adhering to or banning particular styles. It’s about whether your turtleneck or skinny jeans fit you.

The question I’m starting to ask myself, and trying to learn how to answer, is whether the clothes are doing the job they are supposed to do. I don’t mean “supposed to” with respect to some external standard about how women should look or dress, but “supposed to” with respect to the piece of clothing itself: if it’s a dropped waist dress, is the waist dropped when you wear it? If these are skinny jeans, are they fitted consistently through your whole leg?

And here’s the thing, the bit where I struggle: it seems to me that finding the right fit requires you to obsess a bit about the tiny parts of your body and how they all fit together. Your blazer doesn’t fit unless it fits in the shoulders, and at the wrists, and buttons without pulling, and isn’t too short or too long or too boxy. Your pants don’t fit unless they fit at the waist, in the rear, through the legs, and are the right length–no gapping in the back, pulling in the front, or accidental flood pants.

As anyone who has seen the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants knows, clothes that fit perfectly have magical powers. They help you feel comfortable and confident no matter what it is you’re wearing.

Which is why I urged Sam to buy a periwinkle velour jacket from the thrift shop the other day. It was like it was made for him, and you never know what might come in style or what kind of costume party you might be invited to. Also: $4. But I digress.

If your clothes fit well they’re almost always going to look great, and if they don’t, they almost never will. And you can’t get really good at honing in on the stuff that fits you, and stop wasting time and money on the stuff that doesn’t, unless you’re aware of things like the ratio of your upper arm to your shoulder.

The trick, I guess, is disentangling these data points from judgments about what they mean or what they say about you as a person (a clue: nothing).

Oh. Is that all?


4 thoughts on “On being mindful of bodies

    • Haha, yes, I agree! It was the last line that made me steal and repost this thing. Put a bikini on your body!

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